Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Neuro-Diversity: Words



A word I will not define

I will not commence with the apparently obligatory description of that thing commonly referred to as “autism”.
And for that I believe some explanation is, if not required, at least expected, and so, rather than disappoint, here is

An explanation

Autism appears to have only one characteristic: that it can only be defined in a clumsy, partial or unwieldy manner.
This suggests that autism is not, in fact, a thing in itself, but a combination of several things.
Rather than struggle with this I will simply ignore the word.
I suspect that that will not satisfy many people.
Therefore, may I offer you

Some words I will define

As it is the name of this blog it is only right that I start this section by talking a little about what I mean by neurodiversity. The brain receives inputs. It analyses, categorises, stores and responds to them. Diversity in this context refers to the full range of observable characteristics arising from how the brain does these things: it is inclusive. In particular, it is focused on those instances which expand the range of observed characteristics: it is extreme. Finally, it is about the people who display those extreme characteristics: it is human.
Putting all those parts together, we can say that neurodiversity is concerned with extreme human characteristics, with the people who display those characteristics, what is going on in their brains, and why and how this occurs.

A word which will come up again and again is why. I like this word. Get used to it because you will meet it often. Make friends with it and it will serve you well. Another handy word is how. When why can’t help, very often it is because you are asking the wrong question. Try asking how instead.

I mentioned people. Neurology does not exist in isolation, it happens in people. When we look at the signals going to a brain we will likely start with that person’s senses. When we look at the activities resulting from a brain’s output, those will be activities carried out by the person. While that may seem extraordinarily obvious, it does need saying. It is far too easy to talk about a characteristic or some abstract concept in isolation as if they had no context. It is important to refer to the person, and often also to that person’s environment.

Characteristics help us to define aspects of neurodiversity, and refer to certain clusters of human activity which currently have labels attached to them, such as ADD or autistic, describe what those labels refer to, and examine the validity of those clusters and their labels.

I also choose to refer to the person and to characteristics because they are neutral terms, carrying no judgement. It is not difficult to appreciate why avoiding negative terms and words with negative connotations is preferable: they encourage an end to enquiry, and close off possibilities. With that in mind the question may be fairly asked: Why not simply use positive terms? Positive terms also close off possibilities, and can do so in more subtle ways. Both positive and negative terminology create traps which, if we are to make honest progress, must be avoided.

Having got that business of definitions out of the way, let’s move on . . .

Exit MAQQI stage left, carrying a dictionary